Last year Mo Farah won both the 5k and 10k at the European Athletics(Track and Field to Americans) championships. His winning times were significantly slower than the world’s best times. A few weeks ago he ran the fastest time in the world this year over 10k in Eugene, Oregon and more recently beat a strong field in winning a 5k race in GB. His time in Oregon of 26 min 46.57 secs beat his previous best by a staggering 42 seconds.
How is it possible for an already well established athlete to make such dramatic improvements? Most if not all of the credit goes to his new coach, Alberto Salazar, the great former marathon runner. Farah has moved to the US and his training regime has been radically altered.
The purpose of this blog is to highlight some data on Farah that were published in the Sunday Telegraph of July 10. These data show the danger of not controlling training intensity properly. It was reported that his running speeds in training with Salazar in the US have been increased significantly. Now, to someone like me who immediately thinks “here we go again, more of the faster and harder brigade, no gain without pain” I was shocked by the results of some quick calculations I did. Farah used to do his long runs (17-20 miles a day) at about 6 mins 45 secs pace but is now at about a minute faster per mile. His approximate pace per mile to run 26 mins 46.57 secs over 10k is 4 mins 18.5 secs. Therefore at his original training speed he was at about 64% of race speed which is incredibly slow. At his new speed it is still only about 75% of race speed. The latter speed is in the general ballpark to produce about 1-2mM of peripheral blood lactate meaning it would be excellent for improving aerobic capacity. The initial slow speed would not have had much, if any, training effect unless it was used as regeneration (less than 1mM lactate) after a period of harder training. In that circumstance it can be invaluable but not as the main staple of training.
A couple of thoughts. This is a good example of undertraining which in the current training environment of endurance athletes seems to be rare occurrence. Most endurance athletes that I encounter(mainly triathletes, rowers and cyclists) are overtraining and often have to be slowed down before they go faster in races. It is also a good example of where the use of lactate analysis could have helped avoid this situation. I don’t know if lactate analysis has been used by Farah now or in the past but I can’t imagine that 64% of race pace is fast enough to put sufficient stress on the metabolic processes to induce training response and adaptation. If lactate analysis had been used then he could have trained in the correct intensity zone and perhaps gone quicker earlier.